DALLAS – If you weigh 326 pounds and can’t wear a seat belt, fit into a restaurant booth or walk more than a few yards without stopping for breath, the thought of getting in shape is, to say the least, overwhelming.
“It was like throwing a pebble in the ocean,” said Heather Martinez. “But I thought even if it takes me forever, I’ve got to change something.”
She was 32 years old and, like most of her family, had been heavy all her life. She’d tried Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig programs, which just didn’t work for her. Instead of giving up, she took it upon herself to change.
She knew nothing about nutrition, so she sought out fitness magazines and online sources.
“I didn’t know vegetables were so important,” said Martinez, who lives in Arlington, Texas. “I didn’t know it wasn’t OK to eat two hamburgers at dinner. I didn’t know cookies and cakes were not OK for a snack every day, followed by dinner.”
She began eliminating fast food from her diet and replacing it with fruit, vegetables, lean turkey – “better things,” she said. She also started exercising, quite literally, one step at a time.
“All I could do was walk around the little pool – the outside of it – at my condo,” said Martinez, who recently turned 39. “That was as much as I could do without getting out of breath.”
Her motivation became walking farther or climbing a flight of stairs without losing her breath. After four months, she’d reached her first milestone – losing 50 pounds.
“When you go from eating a whole pizza to eating better, the weight comes off pretty quickly in the beginning,” she said.
She also began keeping a food journal and weighing herself every week. She didn’t rush her weight loss; she knew losing it slowly increased her chances of keeping it off.
“A lot of people want a quick fix,” said Martinez, who is now a certified personal trainer. She quit her job as a sales rep at Budweiser in 2009 to pursue fitness full time; in January, she started a women-only fitness business.
“They think what’s holding them back in life is their weight. When you get obese, it’s the side effect of something in your life that’s not working. It’s like a knock on the door getting louder and louder. Food is filling a void. Until you figure that out, you’ll put a Band-Aid on it by eating Lean Cuisine.”
The key is integrating health into your life, she said. She kept walking, kept eating right. After she lost 100 pounds, she felt ready to join a gym.
“I was still at 225, but I was feeling pretty great at that point,” Martinez said. “My feelings soon became a little deflated because I would still get glances. I guess I felt thinner than I actually looked.”
Inside, she said, she felt like telling those who looked at her askance: “Don’t you know how much courage it took to walk in here? Don’t you know I’ve already lost 100 pounds?”
She began strength training, and when a friend told her about boxing, decided to try that, too.
“As a woman, it’s so empowering to hit that bag,” she said.
Mike Houseworth owns Title Boxing Club of Mansfield, Texas, where Martinez works out.
“She’s strong-willed and diligent,” said Houseworth, who had seen Martinez through the years at various 24-Hour Fitness clubs. “When she comes in, she goes right to work. She has a firm commitment to herself. She committed to change her life, and she did.”
About seven months ago, she began teaching classes at the gym.
“Our members love her class,” he said. “If Heather’s doing the 3 o’clock class on Sunday, the parking lot will be full.”
Not everyone comes to the gym wanting to lose weight, he said. But those who do, he sends to Martinez.
“She has knowledge about anatomy and physical fitness,” he said. “She can explain to a person what’s happening when they’re doing a particular exercise. She doesn’t just provide direction, she provides insight.”
Martinez said she knows what overweight people are going through.
She also knows what being on the other side feels like.
She’s kept her weight off almost five years and no longer needs medicine for high blood pressure. Her BMI has dropped from 57 to 25.
She won’t say getting in shape has been easy, but because she was “so, so ready,” she acknowledges it could have been a lot harder.
“If I was angry or mad or upset, I had to deal with those feelings and not go back to my drug of choice” – food, she said. “I’d have to go for a walk or write in my journal.”
She wishes she could change her brain to not want what she shouldn’t have – sweets.
So she works out every day, and about once a month allows herself an indulgence. At 5-foot-1 and about 150 pounds, she continues her quest to be healthy and fit.
“The more weight I lost, the more encouragement I received, and that gave me momentum to continue my journey,” said Martinez. “I was not going to stop with my new lifestyle. My mindset and new way of living have become my new identity.”